It’s that time of year that many of us have been waiting for. College football season is just over the horizon. Huge shoutout to @thrudaroof for the great Huskers video to get us fired up. That means it’s time for me to look at the pressing issues for the Cornhuskers this season as they try to win the Big Ten in their second season in the conference. Let’s take a look at my 5 Burning Questions for the Huskers this season.
Can Bo Pelini lead the team to take the “next step”:
There is little doubt that Bo Pelini is a good coach, especially on defense. However, the team doesn’t really have a signature win during his tenure, with the comeback win last season against a mediocre Ohio State being the closest thing to a big win. Pelini’s teams have been consistently good with records of:9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4 but have been plagued by inconsistent stretches and unexplainable losses like the loss to Northwestern at home last season. Questions will always be there about his sideline antics, but recently he has had questionable comments about the fanbase and their passion or having too much commitment which is not smart. Does Bo have what it takes to lead the program from good to great? Or is he the coach before the man who brings a title back to Lincoln?
Will there be consistent offensive line play:
The Huskers offensive line has a proud tradition, much like the “Blackshirts” defense; more on that defense later though. Barney Cotton is on a seat that’s hotter than any other coach on the team and for good reason. Nebraska hasn’t produced an All-American since Toniu Fonoti in 2001. In the past 10 years, there have been only two all-league O-linemen: Richie Incognito in 2003 and Ricky Henry in 2010. That is staggering. This current line may not have a superstar on it but there is talent there. Losing Tyler Moore and Ryan Klachko hurt the depth up front though and the unit will need to stay healthy. The offense this year has real potential but won’t live up to it without good play on the offensive line. Which leads me to my next question..
What should we expect from Taylor Martinez:
I want you to take note of a couple numbers: 70. That is the completion percentage that Taylor Martinez is shoot for this year. It is nice to have goals in life but let’s get real here. 57.7, however, is his average completion percentage while at Nebraska. The Huskers do not need Martinez to be Matt Barkley this year, but they need him to improve so they can move the ball consistently and take pressure off Rex Burkhead. In my mind, everyone talking about Martinez improving his throwing motion and passing stats are slightly missing the point. Nebraska is a spread running team now, and they need their dual threat QB to effectively run the ball all season, not just the first 3 or 4 games and then get hurt. How long ago does that 241 yard, 4 touchdown performance feel like against Kansas State? An eternity. All reports out of camp are that Taylor has fully healed from that nagging ankle injury and has been full speed. If he can consistently put up good numbers on the ground and be pretty good in the passing game, this offense can be scary.
Which offensive player will step up to take the load off Rex Burkhead:
If you can count on anything this year, it is that Rex Burkhead will have another good year. However, unless he plans on having a Herschel Walker type season, Burkhead will need help. Teams will be able to at least contain him and completely focus their gameplans on him, making it imperative that someone else step up and have a breakout season. As mentioned above, you know I think Taylor Martinez has to be better for the offense to take the next step but that may not be enough. The breakout star could be Kenny Bell though. As a freshman last year, Bell had 32 rec, 461 yds, and 3 touchdowns. Those are not bad numbers as a freshman, especially with inconsistent at best quarterback play. IF Martinez improves, it would go a long way to help get the ball consistently to the speedy Kenny Bell, who has the potential to be the best WR Nebraska has had since Nate Swift.
Will the defense become the blackshirts again:
Most of the offseason focus has been on the Huskers offense and where it needs to improve. There are real questions on the other side of the ball though. Anytime you lose great talent like Jared Crick, Lavonte David, and Alfonzo Dennard, your defense will take a hit. However, even with that talent, the defense was average. In losses last year, the Huskers gave up 430 yards a game and 37.8 points per game. If this is going to be a top ten defense again, Nebraska will need big contributions from Will Compton and Baker Steinkuhler. Bo Pelini’s skills as a defensive coach will be tested because there may not be an all conference player on this side of the ball. Maybe they will prove me wrong but I see a lot of points being put up on the blackshirts this year.